Clash over Renaming Army Bases Could Delay Troops' Pay Raise, Senator Warns

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Fort Benning (U.S. Army photo)
Fort Benning (U.S. Army photo)

A showdown over whether to rename 10 Army bases honoring Confederate leaders could leave the next defense policy bill, which includes a 3% pay bump for troops, facing the president's veto stamp.

The Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday voted to adopt an amendment in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Defense Department to strip the names of Confederate generals from bases and other military assets over the next three years.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday said his administration will "not even consider" the move, something an Army veteran in Congress is slamming since vetoing the bill could also leave troops' expected pay raise in flux.

"It would be shameful enough for the current occupant of the Oval Office to refuse to even consider having the U.S. military stop honoring traitors who took up arms against America to defend their ability to own, sell and kill Black Americans," Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, said Thursday. "But for the Trump White House to threaten vetoing a pay raise for our troops over this is downright despicable."

The new amendment would create an eight-person commission -- including at least two Defense Department officials -- to study and provide recommendations on the removal of names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederacy. The group will address the plan, cost and criteria for making the changes.

But Trump has already hit back against the changes, specifically when it comes to renaming bases such as Forts Bragg, Hood, Lee and Benning.

"Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with," he tweeted this week. "Respect our Military!"

It was Trump's Army and defense secretaries who days earlier said they'd be open to renaming the bases if there was bipartisan support to do so.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tim Kaine of Virginia introduced the amendment, which not only includes base names, but streets too, a Senate Armed Services Committee aide told reporters in a Thursday conference call. The changes would not affect headstones of Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery or elsewhere, according to the aide.

The committee will also consider how local communities near the installations feel about the changes.

"They'll decide which names to change, which names not to change," the official said. "We'll see how this all plays out. The intention is to have a healing process -- it can't just be the federal government coming in with a heavy hand."

The committee's amendment will require a full vote in the Senate and then will be subject to input from the House of Representatives.

Two veterans in the House -- one Republican and one Democrat -- also introduced legislation this week to create a commission that would rename installations named for Confederate leaders within a year.

Rep. Anthony Brown, a Maryland Democrat, and Rep. Dan Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, noted when introducing the bill that the Marine Corps recently banned Confederate flags on base and the Navy is moving to enact a similar policy. The pair spent a combined 59 years in uniform.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

-- Richard Sisk contributed to this story.

Related: Naval Academy Board Chief Calls to Remove Confederate Names

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